Weekends are made of these – Artisan Boulangerie Co.

Who doesn’t love it when the weekend approaches? I bet that most people, by the time Thursday comes by, are already anticipating the end of the work week, that’s why there is always that oft-used “TGIF” and somehow, the mood just takes on a more relaxed tone even on Friday mornings.

These are also the times when I have the luxury of spending moments at cafes, enjoying the food and coffee without having to think of needing to return to the office post-lunch. The amount of time spent there could be the same but the feeling is just different.

Artisan Boulangerie Co., or ABC for short, is one such place I like to go to. I have posted a couple of entries on it before, but this is a short summary of the things I like from them that I found from the photo album of my phone, which I have not downloaded into some storage device but are taking up precious memory space.

Just recently, I went to ABC again, which I’m happy to (despite that a meal there is typically a little pricier as compared to the other cafes like Starbucks or Coffee Bean) especially now that I have easier access to one of their outlets than before. So this time, I had wanted to order my favourite item from their breakfast menu but was told that they ran out of it, so I decided to get a sandwich instead, which you can’t go too wrong with. Not with them anyway, and especially if it’s something that I have tried before – the roast chicken baguette. At S$11.30 (pre-GST), it isn’t the cheapest sandwich around but it’s all for good measure – just check out how generous they are with it.The baguette is easier the length of a fork and it’s of pretty decent quality, though extremely hard. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who don’t like the bite and chewiness in their breads, because even cutting into it takes a bit of effort after sometime (when the bread has cooled) that I felt as though I was working my arms just eating this thing!
The chicken filling was literally spilling out of the sandwich, and it has a nice peppery taste for some spiciness. How I usually eat my sandwiches is by deconstruction – meaning, I literally take the entire sandwich apart, eating the bread separate from the filling. I would slice/cut up the bread into bite-size chunks, the same with the filling, and eat them together like mini open-faced sandwiches. I feel that it’s easier this way and less messy when eating, though the plate becomes messy because as I cut through the bread, types like croissant or baguette crumble and flake all over the place.

On a past visit, I had tried some other sandwiches. One that I had always wanted to try and did, was the Goat Cheese & Capsicum on focaccia. I can’t remember if I had posted about this before, but I love goat cheese and this was definitely one of those items I had wanted to try. I thought somehow the cheese reminded me of brie, and again it was so generous that I had to spread the cheese onto the bread so I wouldn’t recommend this for people who feel iffy about the taste of goat dairy, or for that matter, anyone who doesn’t fancy strong-tasting cheese.Yummy… this on the whole was good, but again strong-tasting, because of the goat cheese and the rockets. But goes perfectly with a cup of their Long Black.
Still another time, I decided to order something off the menu that wasn’t in the display case – turkey, avocado and brie. Although this was not bad in itself, the bread felt a little too soft for my liking. It’s toasted to a certain extent but it I don’t know if it’s because it’s white, it is too soft without the crunch and chewiness that I like to have for breads. If I recalled correctly, and from the picture it is turkey ham used in the sandwich instead of turkey meat, so it isn’t preferred. I probably wouldn’t order this again given a choice; would try something else or order something that I’ve tried and tested to be ok!
Tried the Chicken Caesar salad too and on the whole it’s pretty great, portion size was ok though not excessive but they supplement it with a serving of bread that you could indulge in with (semi-salted) butter or jam that’s freely available from their condiments counter. The salad isn’t dressing-rich, which is great and chicken portions are pretty sufficient. Only downside for me is the use of Parmesan cheese which is not my favourite type of cheese. But I think this is a typical ingredient of Caesar salads, so I could either ask for its omission in future or just make do with it. But butter croutons – amazing!
Of course, this brings me to my favourite item from their menu, which is from their brunch items – Homemade / Artisan Almond Granola, which is a mixture of organic rolled oats, toasted almonds, sesame & sunflower seeds, served with plain yogurt and freshly-cut fruits. At $12 each, this is pretty pricey but I feel worth every single dime (ok maybe not) because the fruits used are really fresh and of good quality and I just cannot resist this combination of fruits, granola and yogurt!Their other brunch items are also good, though the only other item I’ve tried is the Avocado Egg Open Face, which aside from bacon that I don’t take, everything else was just darn great!

Starbucks’ new sandwich menu 

Being the Starbucks fan that I am, I was pleasantly surprised when recently (ok not so recent anymore but this happened in 2016!) they launched a new lunch menu that saw 5 new sandwiches being introduced. For some time, they had a really boring food menu and whenever I wanted to have something substantial, SB would be the last on my mind. Even when they had sandwiches back then, they didn’t look at all appetising or filling for my voracious appetite, and besides they are pre-packed in the chilled display cases that somehow also do not whet my appetite the least bit. I would much rather go to, say Coffee Bean, where sandwiches are prepared only when ordered (or at least that’s what I remembered, if they still do that). Granted that the ingredients are a premix (e.g. chicken / tuna mayonnaise), at least the sandwich is put together upon order so the final product isn’t sitting on the rack for goodness knows how long.

The last menu they had wasn’t too bad – I liked the Tuscan Chicken sandwich that I had quite a number of times and it was satisfying enough for a meal. Their breakfast items have fared better so far, with the Egg White, Roasted Pepper, Mushroom & Cheddar wrap being one of my favourites, and now to add on, there’s also the Rosemary Chicken with Emmental Cheese croissant and Turkey Ham, Egg White & Cheddar sandwich.

This is their latest lunch sandwich menu:

Starbucks_sandwich_new2016I made it a point to try all of them and so far I’ve actually already tried 4! I’m not sure if I will get to try the last one, which is Beef Meatball Marinara croissant, since beef meatballs… maybe not.

So the first item off the list was Roasted Portobello, Pumpkin & Devilled Egg sandwich. What does devilled mean anyway? I have no idea, and I don’t know if I even tasted any egg because I didn’t really open up the sandwich since I was having brunch then with someone else and I didn’t want to seem like a messy eater playing with my food. I really liked this, and it contains mushrooms and pumpkin which also explains why it’s the first that I wanted to try. Love the bread used for the sandwich, with its sprinkling of black and white sesame and pumpkin seeds on top. Roasted mushrooms and pumpkins inside also makes everything so much better!

The choice of bread used for the sandwich greatly affects whether I order it or not. Maybe it’s also because it’s the biggest part of the item, so sometimes it may be a greater contributor to my choice rather than the filling itself! The second item I tried used a similar bread/bun except that it didn’t have any pumpkin seeds, just black and white sesame that still gave a nice flavour / taste to the bread. This was the Honey Mustard Chicken & Apple Slaw sandwich, which I assume should be chicken marinated in honey mustard dressing served with a salad of apple slaw.
I also liked this a lot, even though it felt a little more sinful than the first, because of the dressing used with the chicken. But it’s more fulfilling in a way also because of the chicken. The addition of shredded carrot and purple cabbage also made it nicer with the added crunchiness but at the same time also caused a greater deal of mess in eating because the shredded veggies tended to just fall out.Third try – Wholesome Tuna & Cheese sandwich. It was the third because it’s tuna mayonnaise, i.e. fattening (mayonnaise alert!) although the bun was a lure. Also pretty satisfying but perhaps they could go a little easier on the cheese. There was too much of it that at one point, I decided to just scrape out some of the cheese. But overall, I also enjoyed it. 🙂
Closer look.  The fourth and last item I’ve tried is the Buttermilk Chicken & Egg Croissant. Croissants are amazing pastries but also because of the amount of butter that’s used (I don’t know what else) that make such a small and fluffy pastry so calorie-dense. Once in a while, it’s nice to indulge though. Which is why this is the last item I tried, after exhausting all the other options based on the bread choice. Haha.

There was another reason – hard-boiled eggs. I don’t mind yolks sometimes, but usually only when they come in liquid / molten form such as sunny-side-ups or poached eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are not my kind of thing even if I need that protein for recovery. So while I ate this, I had to deconstruct it (not unusual for me with sandwiches though) and dig out the yolks. :p
Chicken used had a pretty good flavour. It’s supposed to be buttermilk? But I don’t know how that is meant to taste like, or perhaps the flavour is tangy red pesto as described in Starbucks’ website. It has a peppery taste that together with the croissant gave the overall sandwich a rather strong taste and perhaps that is also how it fills you up since croissant in itself doesn’t really make one feel full (at least not for me) or it doesn’t keep you full for too long.  A close-up of the insides, with the generous filling spilling out! This is also what makes the new sandwiches more appealing and value-for-money! Previously, at the kind of prices they charge their sandwiches for, I would be better off paying the same (or sometimes less) for sandwiches from other shops that make them fresh with fresher and more generous ingredients! Now they are at least a more worthy competitor for some other places, though of course we can’t compare SB with shops that specialise in sandwiches!

On the whole, still a great effort and I don’t mind having some of these sandwiches again! With a promotion set meal price of $9.90 during 11.30 am to 3 pm for a sandwich and a hot/iced coffee or tea, it’s quite a good deal (for SB anyway) since the sandwiches already cost about $8.90 on their own.

Wanna Cuppa, New Bridge Rd

To be very honest, if I had not chanced about a Groupon deal online for this cafe, it wouldn’t have entered into my sphere of cognition. There are just too many cafes around in Singapore, that unless someone tells me about it or I read about it somewhere, it is highly likely that I won’t know about it, probably from its birth to dearth.

I can’t remember what the deal was about, something like paying a certain amount to get a $30 cash voucher, which wasn’t such a bad deal. But then again, most times we are just spending unnecessarily because I might not have gone to a cafe then and just make do with cheaper food elsewhere.

So it was with the voucher that was expiring at the end of March that I thought to quickly utilise it during lunch with a colleague. To make sure that the full value of the voucher is used up, we ordered several items to share between the 2 of us. First, we got a slice of Matcha Azuki cake, which was served warm. We asked that they just serve us everything together so we got the cake first, while we waited for the ‘mains’ to be prepared. We reached past 12, maybe around 12:20pm, and it was relatively empty but strangely, patrons started streaming in after 1pm, not just for coffee but food as well, and it was around then that it got crowded, which also meant slower food service. Ours was alright since we were the only ones ordering then.

The cake seemed like it could have come from somewhere else, since they don’t actually sell whole cakes (as we heard when someone asked). The green tea flavour was fairly good and there was a small silver of azuki sandwiched in between which was a tad sweet; so it would have to be eaten in tandem, to even out the two tastes.We ordered a sandwich, the Picasso Panini, which even though their menu indicated that it can be ordered as a panini or wrap, we were told that it only comes in panini form, because these were the ones displayed and we guessed that they are also ordered/delivered from somewhere else maybe?
The Picasso supposedly contains Spanish BBQ chicken, grilled mushrooms and cheddar cheese, and it’s served with a portion of crisps and greens. The sandwich isn’t too bad, but the bread turned really hard after some time so it takes a bit of tough sawing before we could cut through it. I like my bread hard and chewy but I can’t say the same for everyone. The chips, on first taste, reminded me of Red Rock Deli’s Honey Soy Chicken, but my colleague remarked that Red Rock’s chips are much thinner than these, which then I thought it could be Kettle Chips, perhaps Honey Dijon Mustard flavour? We had the intention to ask them before we leave but forgot all about it in the end. At $8.90, despite that we couldn’t have the option to change it into a warp, this was not too bad in terms of value and taste.  The other item we ordered was the Spinach Avocado salad; since there was still some value left in the $30 voucher, I decided to add grilled chicken that costs an additional $2. This is how the salad looked.
For $11.90, you get a bed of baby spinach leaves that sort of covers the plate, topped with some slices of avocado (maybe a quarter) and strips of bell peppers, topped with some cut olives. The dressing was served at the side, which we chose balsamic vinegar that we used more as a dip than a dressing, which probably explained why the salad looks so dry. But for a total of $13.90 including the grilled chicken, which was a sad and pathetic few slices, it was a disappointment. I would probably have been better off ordering another sandwich instead. Thankfully, we got a sandwich and a salad plus a slice of cake, otherwise the 2 of us would probably start getting hungry the moment we stepped out of the cafe.

It is quite possible that I won’t revisit the cafe, since there are still so many other places to check out that would probably be more worth it!

Enjoying. Holidaying. Eating!

Planned to meet my friend for an early breakfast at Cupping Room but got into a bit of delay due to a miscommunication. I thought there were only 2 Cupping Rooms, but apparently not so. She went to the one at Wan Chai, and realised I wasn’t there, and after a while, we found out that we were at different outlets – I was at the original Cupping Room in Sheung Wan. My bad.

We ordered our respective dosages of coffee, and a portion of egg white scrambled on sour dough to share. It was amazing! I love egg white scrambled, even if they are probably not as protein-packed as regular scrambled eggs, but as I don’t really like the ‘eggy’ taste of egg yolk that much, I find egg white scrambled easier on the palate somewhat. But it comes at a premium, always.After breakfast, we took a slow, long walk, and ended up at Pacific Place, where we each bought a pot of yogurt (which has become something we do all the time now) and looked for a next place to plonk ourselves at. We settled at Pret-A-Manger at a mall linked to Pacific Place, where my friend got herself a second coffee and I ordered a log cake, just because it’s Christmas and I have not had a single slice of log cake!
We didn’t finish this eventually because she didn’t seem to really like it and I certainly did not want to have it alone, so unfortunately it went to the wastelands.

We walked a lot more after that, strolling all the way to Wan Chai, where I spotted the Cupping Room she was at this morning, some other interesting cafes that I could consider visiting in the next trip perhaps, a local bakery that she frequents where we bought some buns and had it at the seating gallery overlooking a track and field, the Joel Buchon bistro where she bought some breads, and which had such a delectable array of baked stuff that I would totally want to have… then she had to leave, and I went to meet up with my friend, who had sadly, fallen ill. I walked back to Pacific Place where she was at, and we went to Simply Life bistro for a late lunch or early tea-break. One tea-time set costs about HKD58, which is pretty decent and value-for-money, because it was a rather substantial sandwich and coffee/tea. I got myself a long black and an open-faced sandwich, that also came with a serving of cajun fries! *big love* Check out that layer of melted cheese draped over the grilled mushrooms and spinach, on a slice of very chewy multi-grain/seed toast. I love this and finished every single thing, yes I know it’s a lot of carbohydrates and what I see is that females having the same thing just left the bread there or a good part of it. But! That’s the whole essence of this open-faced right? To me at least, the bread (and maybe the fries) were the highlights!
My friend had the quesadilla or flat-bread; I can’t remember what’s on the inside, but it came with the same cajun fries too.After so much eating, of course we need to do some walking right? So we hopped over to Kowloon for a small spot of sightseeing. I’m sorry to Kowloon dwellers, but I really do not enjoy being there. Although Hong Kong is known for being an overcrowded city not unlike Singapore, Kowloon seems to be more so than say, Central. Causeway Bay can also be a big mess of people, especially tourists who usually walk in haphazard fashion, but being in Kowloon never fails to give me a headache at some point and it makes me feel claustrophobic and frustrated.

We visited the heritage place in Tsim Sha Tsui, where not surprisingly, tonnes of tourists were packing the place and taking selfies.
It wasn’t dark enough for the lights to look pretty but then since it would probably take a while more for it to become dark, we went over to the harbour front area.  It was cloudy or foggy day despite that it didn’t start out as being very cold. In fact, it was a considerably warmer day as compared to the day before (i.e. winter solstice). We couldn’t even see much across to the other side.
The laser show was only scheduled to come on at about 8pm, which was really a bit too much waiting for us to do, so we headed back to Hong Kong island, and decided to have dinner at the Ukrainian restaurant that we spotted on Sunday near the Lebanese place we had dinner at that rainy night.

Our drinks – kefir. I totally love this because it’s a yogurt drink and it reminded me of the milky drink I had in Helsinki years back when I was there on a business trip. It was really quite filling but I could almost just bottoms-up the glass!We ordered a soup to share, a pumpkin soup that seemed a little too salty.
My friend ordered a stew – with lots of meat (chicken I think), mushrooms and carrots. It doesn’t seem like a huge pot but the serving was again quite substantial, and it came with a puff pastry covering it!  Close-up.
Compared to Sunday, this weekday night seemed so much busier. Perhaps we couldn’t really tell from the outside, but I suspected that Sundays are generally quieter in SOHO, or perhaps it was raining that night so the crowd was thin. We were lucky to get the last available table, as others had to wait, and the wait time for food to be served was also pretty long. However, the food quality was relatively good and looking at the menu, it resembled what I saw when I was in Moscow, which makes sense since they are so near to each other. But I remembered having the borscht soup and didn’t like it. But stuff like skewered meats (whites please) are ok with me!

This was the plate of grilled vegetables that I ordered, which were a little oily but on the whole, I really liked it too because it’s such a generous portion!We were totally stuffed by the end of the night that we couldn’t finish every single thing on the plates. Almost did. I guessed the kefir filled us up, at least for me it did, but it was quite a good meal and maybe in future I could consider coming again!

Happy Plate Movement

I came across this cause sometime ago on Instagram, and thought it was a really apt movement, but something that is extremely challenging in a developed society like Singapore where food waste on a daily basis counts in enormous amounts. I think that most of all don’t (I hope) consciously want to waste food, because we all know how precious food is, especially in the context of famine happening in many parts of the world’s developing nations, but in a place like ours, it is something inevitable. It is probably not entirely unavoidable but to be able to not waste food would be a tumultuous journey. Nonetheless, I really applaud this initiative to raise awareness of food wastage and hopefully encourage people towards lessening food waste!

It may sound hypocritical, coming from me, who regularly scraps off stuff like cream from cakes, or excess fillings from toasts/sandwiches e.g. kaya or butter, but I have tried to make some adjustments where eating habits are concerned, by not ordering those cakes that come with too much cream unless it is a no-choice kind of situation where the cake is proffered as part of someone’s birthday celebration, not ordering kaya butter toast but opting instead for peanut butter toast that I would clean off every single crumb, and even asking for “no rice” when I order my favourite economical rice! There was a time when I ate salads almost on a daily basis during lunch time because it is one of those items that I would finish every single morsel of food in the salad box, but it just caused me to become so bloated thereafter that I had to stop.

So here is a picture of my empty plate! See how the plate is almost cleaned off of its original contents of a huge turkey sandwich with a portion of side salad. I love the sandwiches at Coffee Bean, and it’s no secret I love bread, especially the whole wheat bread that they serve, so ordering this item would ensure that I finish everything. Well, it does seem like a large sandwich but honestly, it is only just nice for me, and a few hours later, I am hungry or peckish again. Haha. I do have a ravenous appetite when it comes to breads! 

High-tea at The Marmalade Pantry, Ion

After hearing several raves about the Afternoon Tea set at the Marmalade Pantry, I finally got to try it one day. All this while I have not really had the chance because afternoon teas tend to be too much for two persons and it’s typically geared towards more sweet than savoury items. Despite that I generally have a sweet tooth, there needs to be a balance, usually.

Priced at S$38 for a set that is supposed to serve 2, it’s really quite value-for-money because as compared to some other places, this works out to be about S$22 per person after applicable taxes.

The afternoon tea offerings are served in a three-tier rack, with the top tier holding the condiments, which includes strawberry preserve, marmalade (of course they can’t not have this) and clotted cream. The middle tier displays the scones, a mixture of mini buttermilk scones and mini cranberry scones, a whopping total of 10 pieces! Of course, these are about half the size or less of a usual scone, but I think there is still too much of it. 10 pieces! Gosh, how can anyone finish that much, which was why I guess most comments I read about this set would be that it probably would serve three better instead.The lowest tier serves an assortment of mini sandwiches, which includes 2 open-faced ones. These are supposedly egg and cress, beef and horseradish and green land shrimp. These finger sandwiches make up the only savoury part of the set, and we both agreed that we would rather have swapped out some of the scones for more of the sandwiches because the bread is really nice! The fillings are great as well but I like the toasted and crusty texture of the bread. Perhaps one of these days I could order the sandwiches there just to have the bread. 🙂A closer look at the overwhelming number of scones. They aren’t too bad, but from what I could recall of them and what I had before, they aren’t the best scones around. The size is great of course, because we all know how dense scones can be and just one normal-sized scone could count for a meal/snack, e.g. breakfast. Another point to note is that the clotted cream also isn’t fabulous. Clotted cream is of course better than whipped cream, anytime, but the clotted cream at Marmalade Pantry still feels a little light and not as decadent as how we would usually want clotted cream to be!
Besides these, the set also comes with a cupcake each of your choice. We picked the Limonata (tart lemon glazed cake) and the Granny’s Apple (spiced apple and cinnamon cake with cream cheese). The latter, with the dollop of apple on top, was a much better option, because the Limonata’s topping somehow just tastes too sweet and artificial, even its base. I would have expected something more zesty but it just felt very sweet overall.
Not too bad an experience, but there are so many other afternoon/high tea sets around to check out to do a repeat, unless it’s really worth it or good, such as that at Fosters! It costs just $11.50 for 2 scones, a slice of tea cake and a finger sandwich. From what I remembered of it, the scones and clotted cream they have are pretty awesome.

Oh and Marmalade Pantry’s set also comes with a pot of Gryphon tea each of your choice. I would have preferred if they offered coffee too, but then it would probably have resulted in me overdosing on coffee, and what’s Afternoon ‘Tea’ without tea?

Doutor Cafe, Japan

Just before my birthday last month, I jetted off to Sapporo, Hokkaido, for a week to take a short break. It hasn’t been that long since I visited in Tokyo in April, but I just felt like I needed a break. Even if time is passing by so fast, particularly this year it seems, holidays are like an oasis in the desert. Although I have been to Japan so many times over the last few years since my first trip there in winter of 2007, I have never set foot on the northern territories of Hokkaido. It was an opportune time to visit even if summers in Japan can be mercilessly hot, because summer is the period when flowers bloom in Hokkaido, and temperatures there are generally more forgiving and bearable than in Honshu itself.

So because we needed to transit in Tokyo to get to Sapporo, we decided to take a red-eye flight to Narita with a short hour-plus transit stop, where we had to collect our luggage and re-check it in, due to security concerns, before hopping over to the domestic terminal at Narita to catch the flight out to Sapporo. The queues at the custom was not too long, though there was still a fair bit of arriving tourists and foreigners waiting in line. We managed to have sufficient time to clear the arrival immigration, and still queue to deposit our luggage for the domestic sector.

By the time we arrive in Sapporo, it was probably around noon. We went to the tourist information counter, or the JR office, I can’t remember the exact name, where we bought ourselves a 5-day JR Rail Pass, as well as a ticket that would take us to the city, which is just about half an hour away on the limited express train.

Our hotel, Century Royal Hotel, is located not far from the JR station. There is an underground walkway that could lead us to the hotel, but with the luggage it’s easier to walk above ground, wheeling our luggage from the station, out onto the street and across a road, where the hotel stands. Hotel Gracery is also nearby, in the adjacent street, and its exterior facade somehow looks nicer. However, I think it either cost more when we were booking or it wasn’t available anymore because this is travel peak season and ours was a fairly last minute trip.

Finally, we settled for a late lunch, more like a tea break, after checking in. We were exploring the area for food options, feeling slightly zombie-fied from the lack of sleep in the flight. This was what we picked eventually, me wanting to have a coffee badly. As it wasn’t that far off from dinner time, we ordered these to share – a sandwich and a pumpkin tart.
Here’s a closer look at the tart. There are lots of such tarts being sold in the cafes all over Sapporo, mostly cheese tarts. Probably because it is Hokkaido after all, where milk, cheese and dairy are the thing to have! The texture of this cake was a little mousse-like and not really too sweet or heavy. Or maybe my taste buds had fallen asleep. But overall, it was a pretty good tea break!

Over the next few posts, expect to see more of these cafe shots and also food! What’s a holiday without savouring the gastronomical offerings of the destination?!?